The Talmud relates
that the Jewish people were incapable of committing the sin of the Golden Calf on their own, for they had mastered their evil inclination.
Rather, the sin was "a decree of the King, so as to provide an opening to penitents. For a sinner might think that repentance is of no avail. He is therefore shown that G-d accepted the penance of even those who committed the heinous sin of the Golden Calf."
"So as to provide an opening to penitents" refers not only to later generations; it also afforded the Jews of that time the opportunity of achieving repentance.
Repentance is not a manner of service that a sinless person can choose. Quite the contrary: "He who says, 'I shall sin and then repent' is not afforded the opportunity to repent." It is only after a person has sinned that he is provided with the opportunity to repent.
Nonetheless, the service of repentance is so great that it contains certain merits which are lacking even in the service of the truly righteous, as our Sages say: "The level attained by penitents cannot be achieved by the completely righteous."
In order for the Jews who experienced the giving of the Torah, and consequently became truly righteous, to also experience repentance, it was necessary that there be a "decree of the King." Only this enabled the evil inclination to gain temporary dominance over them; they could then experience the tremendous elevation of penitence.
One of the qualities of repentance that is lacking in the service of the completely righteous arises from the fact that a righteous individual is only capable of elevating those sparks of holiness that lie within permissible matters. His approach to evil is one of negation; it is impossible for him to transform it into holiness.
However, a sinner can, through complete repentance, effect the transformation of misdeeds into merits. Thus, he not only negates evil, but is able to elevate the holiness that was trapped within it.
This difference between the service of a completely righteous individual and the service of a penitent results not only from the fact that the righteous individual simply lacks sins to transform; it is also related to the difference between their methods of divine service.
The service of the truly righteous individual is that of revealing G-dliness within the world. Since evil as it exists within the world conceals and opposes G-dliness, the righteous individual negates it.
However, the service of the penitent elevates the physical world into the realm of the holy. He is thus cognizant of the world not as something that opposes G-dliness, but rather as it is looked upon from Above.
The same is true regarding evil: Penitents realize that G-d's ultimate intent is not merely the negation of evil, but the transformation of it - through repentance - into good, thereby elevating the divine spark concealed within.
G-d's giving of the Torah revealed G-dliness in a manner that transcended the corporeal world; a Jew's repentance engages the corporeal world and transforms it into G-dliness.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI pp. 412-414.
- (Back to text) Avodah Zarah 4b and commentary of Rashi.
- (Back to text) Rashi, ibid.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) See also Likkutei Sichos IX p. 240 and fn. 28 ibid.
- (Back to text) Mishnah conclusion of Tractate Yoma.
- (Back to text) Berachos 34b; Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4. See Likkutei Sichos ibid. fn. 29.
- (Back to text) Yoma 86b.
The Midrash on the portion of Sisa relates
that Moshe was distressed that as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf he had to break the Luchos, the Tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments.
G-d told him, continues the Midrash, that he need not be overly upset, for the first Luchos contained only the Ten Commandments, while the tablets that were to be given as a result of the shattering of the first Luchos would also possess, "Laws, Midrash and Aggados" - the Oral Torah.
The Midrash thus reveals that only by breaking the first Luchos could the "Laws, Midrash and Aggados" be received; if they could have been received without the loss of the first Luchos, Moshe's anguish would have been justified.
Why, indeed, was it necessary for the first Luchos to be broken in order for G-d to give the "Laws, Midrash and Aggados"; could He not have done so without having Moshe shatter the Tablets?
The study of Torah is wholly unlike other intellectual disciplines, whose mastery requires only a keen mind and an inquisitive intellect. To be successful in the study of G-d's Torah, humility and self-effacement are necessary.
We find this concept expressed in the prayer Elokai Netzor, at the conclusion of the Amidah: "Let my soul be [so humble that it is] as earth to all. Open my heart to Your Torah..."; i.e., only with humility and self-abnegation can one succeed in the study of Torah.
This is because the Torah is G-d's wisdom; just as He is infinite and thus completely beyond the intellectual grasp of any created being, so too is His Torah. And though G-d condensed His wisdom in the Torah as given to us so that even mortals can grasp it, Torah remains G-d's wisdom.
Thus, for a person to truly comprehend the Torah he must first achieve total self-nullification, thereby assuring that his "being" will not hinder him from becoming attached to G-d's being, which in turn enables him to comprehend G-d's wisdom.
One of the things that helps us realize that even as Torah exists below it remains G-d's wisdom is its limitlessness - "Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." This infinite quality is specifically revealed in "Laws, Midrash and Aggados" - the Oral Torah.
The Written Torah is strictly delineated; it may contain only the number of words that comprise its 24 books. With regard to the Oral Torah, however, we are told to "increase it," i.e., we are charged to come up with new and novel Torah thoughts, etc. It is notably this part of Torah that knows no bounds.
This is why the Oral Torah could be given only after the breaking of the Luchos.
At the time G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He clearly declared that He had "chosen us from among all nations" and "lifted us up from among all tongues." Understandably, when Jews were in such an exalted state it was entirely unnatural for them to experience such utter humility that they felt "like dust to all."
For while it is true that the Divine revelation at Sinai caused the Jews to be humbled, they had just been "chosen" and "uplifted." Moreover, the humility they did experience resulted from the tremendous revelation from Above; they did not feel insignificant in and of themselves.
Moshe's breaking of the Luchos before their eyes, however, made them completely heartbroken and abjectly humble. It was this utter state of self-nullification that enabled them to receive the infinite Oral Torah that accompanied the second Luchos.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVI, pp. 249-252.
- (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 46:1.
- (Back to text) The text is originally found in Berachos 17a.
- (Back to text) See Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah conclusion of ch. 5; Tanya I, ch. 2, Tanya II, ch. 7.
- (Back to text) Iyov 11:9.
- (Back to text) See Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:5.
- (Back to text) Zohar I 12:b. See also Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:2; Iggeres HaKodesh 145a.
- (Back to text) Text of Blessing preceding Krias Shema; and as explained in Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim conclusion of ch. 64 (gleaned from the Ramoh) that this refers to Mattan Torah.
- (Back to text) Text of Festival Amidah and Kiddush.